HONG KONG — President Russell M. Nelson looked over the largest crowd of Latter-day Saints to ever assemble in Hong Kong and waved goodbye by lifting both hands high in the air.
Many of the 4,200 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints returned the gesture.
“You are making a memory for us that we will never forget,” President Nelson had just told them.
It’s the love of the Lord that motivates them to show such kindness, the leader said. “They love the Lord. They love the Lord’s work. And they have a natural desire to be close to the Lord’s leaders.
“It is not about us. It is about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.”
Here in this city known for its skyscrapers, bridges, trade markets and shipping docks, President Nelson completed the Asian leg of his global ministry tour Saturday evening.
“This has been a journey of joy,” said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
President Nelson — accompanied by his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and Elder Holland and his wife, Sister Patricia Holland — has visited seven countries in the past 10 days, addressing members and missionaries in Europe, Africa and Asia.
“We have covered an amazing amount of geography and met a lot of people,” said Elder Holland. “The symbolism of this visit is as important as the actual stops.”
Since the creation of the Hong Kong Mission in 1949, “missionaries have been actively teaching the gospel to the people of Hong Kong for 69 years,” said Elder Zeno Chow, an Area Seventy in Hong Kong. “We now have six stakes and two districts in the Hong Kong/Macau region with over 26,000 members.”
“I think Hong Kong is one of the remarkable cities of the world,” Elder Holland said. “It has been an anchor spot for so much of the church in Asia.”
Still, church leaders noted the challenges that exist for the multi-generational Latter-day Saint families who make Hong Kong their home.
“Hong Kong is a beautiful, exciting city, but it is an expensive place to live and the members work very hard,” said Elder Randy D. Funk, General Authority Seventy and president of the LDS Church’s Asia Area. “The young people are remarkable, often speaking Cantonese, Mandarin and English. Many leave for education and it is expensive for them to return to live here. Despite this, the church continues to grow.”
The prophet visiting Hong Kong demonstrates "the Lord’s love to all people, including the Chinese," Elder Chow said. “To be able to be instructed at the feet of a prophet is a great blessing to the local members.”
The members felt the same way:
“It is nice to be able to hear the words of a prophet specifically for Hong Kong,” said Kristen Tsui, a young single adult working for the church in the area. “It feels more personal when he is sharing a message for your region.”
One example of the gospel taking root in Hong Kong is the number of two- and three-generation LDS families from the region, including Peter and Christine Ko.
Missionaries knocked on the Ko’s door in Hong Kong in 1976 and didn’t stop coming.
“They kept coming on rainy days, on windy days,” said Christine Ko, who finally wondered, “What makes them so enthusiastic to have us come to their church.”
She gained understanding and, with two of her three sons, was baptized.
Soon afterward she was diagnosed with pemphigus, an immune system disorder that causes the skin to blister. That prompted her siblings to suggest the disease was the result of joining a new religion.
As she was contemplating leaving the church, she received a call from her bishop. He asked how she was, expressed the love of the ward for her and hung up.
She never considered leaving the church again. Because of that call, "I understood God knows where I am and who I am,” she said.
Years after her baptism, her husband followed her into the church.
When the Hong Kong China Temple was dedicated in 1996, the couple was sealed in the temple to their three sons.
Today, this three-generation family in Hong Kong includes four grandchildren. All three of the Kos' children work for the church in the Asia Area office.
Addressing the congregation in Hong Kong, President Nelson said “things have been a little different for me in the past four months.”
“I have always been a praying person,” he said, “but answers are coming in the middle of the night, usually when I am fast asleep. Now my phone doesn’t ring, but I still get calls for me and for [God’s] children.”16 comments on this story
Speaking to the members from the area, Elder Holland said whatever the disappointment, heartache or deprivation, “God can turn every disadvantage to your opportunity and advantage."
President Nelson and Elder Holland will now head for Hawaii where they will conclude the tour after addressing members there.
Then President Nelson will go out again on another tour, he said. The church is established in more than 170 countries of the world.
“We will get around to the other countries in time,” he said.
Added Sister Nelson: “We don’t have time for jet lag.”
“It’s a luxury we can’t afford,” said the fast-moving church president.